Cornhole: America’s Mölkky

If Finland has 5 million people, and 3 million saunas, I think it’s safe to say that there are at least 2 million sets of mölkky within the borders of this quirky but charming Nordic nation.  You will find a mölkky set sitting on the porch of nearly every cabin, and on warm sunny evenings it’s common to see friends tossing logs and drinking beers throughout the dozens of parks that speckle the Helsinki city landscape.  Moreover, this Finnish yard game seems to be slowly tiptoeing its way into new frontiers… with amateur tournaments being set up in countries like France and Japan.  Heck, you can even pick up a set in America from Walmart if you feel so inclined.

That said, the game is still fairly obscure for the most part, so it’s no surprise to me that most Americans have never heard of it.  However, what does surprise me is that most Finns have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention America’s mölkky-equivalent, the glorious game of Cornhole.  So with that in mind, allow me to use this blog post to fill you in on America’s “second greatest pastime” (… the first being baseball, in case you forgot ya’ dum dum!).

The rules of Cornhole are pretty simple… throw sacks of corn at a hole… just as the name would suggest.  But to expand on this a bit, you toss these fabric corn-filled sacks at a slightly inclined board with a hole in it, which is 27 feet away (or about 8 meters for you freedom-hatin’ amateurs). You get one point for landing on the board, and three points for putting it in the hole.  First to 21 points wins!  Yay!

But unlike mölkky, it’s a team game.  So while you and your competitor are throwing toward one board, you each have a teammate on either side of the board waiting to toss the bags back in your direction (where there lies the second board).

The players alternate throws until each person has thrown four bags, then your teammates do the same. Rinse, repeat, until one of the teams hits 21 points.  They are a few more technical rules (bags falling off the board, canceling points etc), but let’s skip that for now.

playing-cornhole

So that’s it… pretty simple… but why does this matter?  Well, it’s kind of a big deal in the US, and has been increasing in popularity over the last decade or so.  If you ever go to a BBQ or pool party, there’s a good chance that somebody will drag out the Cornhole boards at some point.  And these big old heavy boards are everywhere… during the summer months I bet that 30% of the Midwest American population has a set in the trunk of their car at any given time.

And if you attend a college football tailgate during the autumn (which I’d highly recommend doing), you will see dozens, if not hundreds, of Corhnole boards painted with fantastic colors and designs, often in the colors of their Alma mater or favorite football teams.

In other words, Cornhole has become an essential part of the American summer experience.  It sounds silly that this simple game has become so ubiquitous, but to me it makes sense.  Why?  Well, it has this perfect balance of being fun and easy to play, while still lighting that fire of competition in the players’ hearts.  Additionally, it’s a very social game, and being able to have fun conversations and hold a beer with your free hand whilst competing makes it a perfect social activity.

So as a dual citizen of both my beloved America and Finlandia, I need to ask myself, which game is better?  Mölkky or Cornhole?  Tough to say… let’s do a side-by-side comparison:

molkky-v-cornhole

So okay, they seem pretty even.  However, while I think Finland does a lot of stuff better than the US (health care, educating its youth, work-life balance, elections… you know, the little things), to me this is a case where the US has the advantage.

Being able to team-up with your buddy, or even getting paired with somebody you just met, adds a pretty amazing social aspect to the game.  When you lose a close game against your rivals, you immediately want to play another to save face.   When you and your best broski are on a crazy 7-game winning streak, there’s no way you’re walking away from those boards until some challenger inevitably takes you down… even if the sun sets, you’d rather pull that Ford F-150 onto the lawn and blast the high beams instead of calling it a night.  Cornhole for the win.

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